Phillip Morgan ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
When a band goes out of their way to paint a mural of their latest album art in their hometown, it pretty much means they have huge aspirations for the record in question. Title Fight certainly have room to be ambitious, given their previous LP Floral Green is still widely regarded as a masterpiece of the newest generation of post-hardcore, but it’s doubtful that anyone could’ve predicted the dramatic tonal shift the Kingston, PA quartet have taken nearly three years later. Sure, songs like “Head in the Ceiling Fan” and “Lefty” demonstrate that Title Fight has known for quite some time exactly how to transfer their raucous punk energy into their quieter, moodier sections, and they’ve never felt the need to downplay their soft spot for shoegaze. But the shimmering, watery guitars and whispery vocals that permeate their new record Hyperview (released February 3rd via Anti Records) introduce a whole new sonic approach for the band, and it’s no coincidence that the album’s opening track is named “Murder Your Memory” while the closer bears the title “New Vision.” This is Title Fight in uncharted territory, but older fans will likely find an air of familiarity in Hyperview, even if the raw force of their earlier work may be slightly muted.
The shoegaze element of their sound is much more noticeable this time around, especially on the hazy, slowed-down ending of “Trace Me Onto You” and pretty much all of songs like “Liar’s Love” and lead single “Chlorine.” However, more intriguing in their new sonic template is the sheer lack of distortion throughout the record, instead focusing on shimmering, watery chord progressions and angular guitar melodies that feel more in line with post-punk acts like Protomartyr or Junior Astronomers. The plucky melodic lines in “Rose of Sharon” sound like they could easily open a song by The Replacements or The Cure, and it’s a nice change of pace for a band so used to dirty melodies sneaking in from the distorted haze. The absence of that wall of fuzz is initially fairly jarring, especially on “Hypernight” where co-frontman Ned Russin’s bassline carries the main melody, one of many twists and turns in Title Fight’s songwriting choices on this record that previously would’ve been next to impossible. However, once you get accustomed it, the music still feels distinctly Title Fight, and superb Title Fight at that.
The lack of a proper roar from the guitars may take a bit of the bite out of their crashing guitars, and unfortunately there are a few moments where Title Fight’s dedication to a mellower atmosphere goes slightly overboard. “Murder Your Memory” and “Dizzy” in particular suffer from a lack of variety within their dreary, sluggish tempos and plodding melodies, and neither track really goes anywhere beyond its main idea musically. Their droning may complement the moody vibe of Hyperview, but condemns the two as the weakest songs of the record, and they feel uncharacteristically bland and repetitive in an album full of the sudden tempo, dynamic, and atmospheric shifts Title Fight are notorious for (though “Dizzy” benefits from a much more interesting melody and gradual dissolution). Luckily drummer Ben Russin is just as playfully aggressive as ever behind the kit, breathing life into passages that otherwise would’ve become shoegaze-filled nothingness, and even on more straightforward punk-leaning tracks like “Mrahc” and “Trace Me Onto You” he never holds back on his knack for high-energy intricacy.
The track “Your Pain is Mine Now” stands out as the nucleus of the whole record, in that it represents a condensed version of everything Title Fight is trying to accomplish with Hyperview. Watery guitars and pointed melodies abound from guitarists Jamie Rhoden and Shane Moran at a firm but fluid mid-tempo pace that gradually builds in intensity, only to float back down to its deceptively mellow chorus. Rhoden sings on this track (and more of this album than any of their previous releases) and his low, ghostly moan is surprisingly endearing despite the song’s gloomy aura. It’s one of the dreariest mid-speed tunes in Title Fight’s entire repertoire, and yet there’s a surge of life that suggests it could stand toe-to-toe with their hardest hitting songs. That seems to be the main recurring theme in Hyperview, that Title Fight is trying to prove the mellower side of their sound is just as powerful as the more traditional post-hardcore aesthetic they embodied before, and “Your Pain is Mine Now” is the pinnacle of that idea.
Returning to the vocals, while Jamie Rhoden’s somber croon is essentially an expansion of his softer parts on Floral Green, Ned Russin’s voice takes a surprising turn on this record. Save for his familiar raspy howling on standout track “Rose of Sharon,” Russin calms his throat for the first time and reveals that despite what we may have all thought, he is more than capable of clean vocals, and his lower range brings a density that serves as the perfect foundation for Rhoden’s eerie harmonies, especially on his main tracks like “Hypernight” and “Liar’s Love.” His jump to clean vocals may not be as shocking as Pianos Become the Teeth frontman Kyle Durfey’s on their 2014 LP Keep You, and it’s definitely not as refined, but it’s impressive all the same to see Russin stretch the boundaries of his performance.
Really, the only part of Title Fight that remains mostly untampered with is their lyrics, which still rely more heavily on short bursts of poetry than typical full-fledged verse-chorus-verse lines. There are some exceptions, especially on “Your Pain is Mine Now,” with Rhoden’s grim refrain, “Gatling gun / Your pain is mine now / See through the smoke / Clouds warping around / I know you’re scared / Don’t cry your eyes out / Gatling gun / Under your spell now,” which is quite possibly the longest hook Title fight has ever written. Russin continues to explore his apprehensions about interpersonal interaction in his most painful poetry yet, opening “Liar’s Love” with the darkly poignant, “Losing trust in human touch / It’s honest like a liar’s love / Disappear as hands draw near / Avoid the longing sense of being one you trust.” Such a statement causes the unassumingly simple hook, “Don’t count on me / I’m not what you need,” to hit like a brick to the face, and it’s the kind of set-up Title Fight excels at.
Hyperview is a stellar addition to Title Fight’s already impressive catalog, and proves they can take their high-energy punk mentality and apply it to any tonal aesthetic they see fit. Sure, this might not be the record that gets you headbanging in the car on your way to work or completes your delicately crafted Angry Breakup Playlist that we definitely don’t also have, but it’s still a solid punk record at heart. Only time will tell if it’s superior to Floral Green, but there’s no question it’s a worthy successor. And really, that’s all anyone can ask for.